RGU Web – Inside and Outside

Go back 12 years or so, and RGU’s web presence was pretty much a static web site, with some core information on there but many parts of the University largely unrepresented. Around 2002, a major web redesign project created a simple content editor, a relatively straight forward overall design and the ability of a wide cross section of the University community to create and populate web pages within the overall web site. I remember clearly that our biggest concern at the time was how to galvanise the effort across the University to create the level of web presence that we were looking for. I needn’t have worried – we had made the process of putting information on the web so easy that everybody jumped on very quickly and we actually ended up with the opposite problem. We had too much information, it was not all co-ordinated across departments, there was some duplication and much content was not being kept up to date following the initial enthusiasm. If I remember correctly we had over 12,000 pages on our web site, of which probably 11,500 were rarely accessed.

Anyway, we set about a major redesign of our web site back in 2007/8, put a web content team in place and control of content and over a continuous process since then created the web site that you see today for RGU. That web site is deliberately focussed on the external world – prospective students, parents, business partners, the community and so on. Whilst creating it, we moved across / redesigned content on the old web site. However, a great deal of the content on the old web site had been created with our internal University community in mind and this remained on the old web site which was now affectionately called “www4” as it had been renamed to distinguish it from the main web site.

The next stage in our journey was to create a staff and student portal which would, amongst other things, be the new home for the internal content marooned on www4. I wrote about that portal previously.

We’ve made good progress in moving that content across – if you are a member of staff or a student, go and have a look {web link to RGyoU}. Now we are undertaking the final push to get all the remaining content areas removed from www4 and replaced with something on the Portal. After that, www4 will be turned off in the next 2 to 3 months – and that will be the end of an era.

Once www4 has been turned off, we will have externally facing web content on our main web site, and internally facing web content accessed through the Portal via your RGU username and password. We also have web based content on Moodle, but that is information that is primarily associated with our teaching and learning programmes. It’s important to avoid confusion that the right information is in the right environment (web site, Portal, Moodle), and I will be working with colleagues to make sure we have effective arrangements to oversee this.

If you want a nostalgic look at one of our www4 pages – here (ironically) is the old web page for the web redevelopment project.  But be quick – it will disappear soon!


Technology in Teaching Spaces in RGU Riverside East

RGU’s new Campus Masterplan Building – “Riverside East” – is due for handing over to the University in April, and the Library will be the first official occupants – moving in during May. After several years of planning, preparation, procurement and building – we’re almost there! You can get up to date information on preparation for the move by referring to our “Campus Moves” web page:

One aspect of the new building that has been continually in our minds has been how to fit out teaching spaces with new technology to support anticipated future approaches to teaching and learning.

Work to scope the design of the new facilities started back in 2009, with a working group that included representatives from all faculties. This group was provided with basic room layouts and asked to discuss key questions about the way in which staff would want to use the spaces.  These questions included: “What will staff want to be able to do?”  “What will they want their students to be able to do?” Outcomes from these discussions helped to feed in to the specification of the room designs in the new building.

IT Services, DELTA (The Department for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching and Assessment) and Estates and continued to refine and develop the technical specification of learning spaces as the Masterplan project proceeded. We learned from developments in other Universities and activity in corporate environments – both in the UK and internationally. I wrote in a previous blog entry the key design principles that we wanted to see in the new building and since I wrote that blog the demonstration facility has been created in DELTA’s offices in St Andrew Street.

You can get a preview of all the features in an online video tour.  This includes links to specific video guides to each of the key features.  Staff at the University are also welcome to visit the demonstration area in DELTA’s offices and try it for themselves (contact Nicol Ferguson).

DELTA will  be coordinating a programme of staff development to help staff learn about the potential, and  encourage  best use of the features.  This will range from basic “how tos” of using specific pieces of kit, through to considering blended learning designs to make best use of the combination of the virtual learning environment and the new physical environments.



IT and Audio Visual Technology in our New Campus Spaces

Readers familiar with our University campus in Aberdeen will know that we are currently constructing a stunning new building at our Garthdee Campus. If you want to see some great photos on how this is shaping up look at Daniel Doolan’s Blog. During the design of this building, we have given a great deal of thought to the part that IT and Audio visual (AV) technologies should play to create state of the art space for our staff, students and visitors. I had a chance this week to go through some of the more detailed specifications for different types of space, and I thought I would share some of the key features with you. This is a team effort involving IT Services, DELTA, Estates & Property Services and colleagues from across the University working together.

The new building will, of course, be wireless enabled throughout – including a bit of outdoor coverage for the lovely sunny weather usually experienced in Aberdeen at this time of year.

All our teaching classrooms and lecture theatres will be equipped with overhead projection and sound – the larger rooms will have two projectors. No surprises there, but we have made sure that in addition to any fixed PC in the rooms, we will be able to easily connect to these systems laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices – wirelessly if required. We will use “short throw” projectors where possible to reduce shadows from people walking in front of the projection. Fixed video cameras will be in most of these rooms for lecture capture, streaming video to overflow space, video conferencing and for remote participation. You would think that sound was straight forward, but a lot of thought has gone in to balancing sound from, for example, a video being shown along with the lecturer speaking, so that there is an even distribution of sound through the room without those at the front being deafened so that those at the back can hear.

We’ve designed the controls and operation of IT and AV equipment in each type of space to be basically the same so that staff can walk into any space and not have to waste time figuring out how to get things working. Sound, projection and lighting will all be controlled from a console – or possibly even from your iPad.

I don’t think we will be seeing any VHS players, DVD players or the likes in our new spaces – we expect all media to be streamed either from external sources or from our Virtual Learning Environment.

We’ve also been looking at the furniture layout in these rooms – moving away from fixed rows of desks and seats and towards flexible configurations of desks close to power and data connectivity.

A fully functional “mockup” of the new space and associated equipment is being put together in DELTA’s offices at the moment, and once it is ready they will be encouraging people to come and “test drive” the new equipment and look at the furniture options. They will also support staff development to help staff prepare to use the new facilities.

Meeting rooms will of course also be equipped with similar IT and AV, except that we will use flat screens instead of overhead projectors for the smaller rooms.

The new building will have a much better “signage” system with flat screens in key public areas on which we can display University wide messages, local messages, and television and other media broadcasts.

All this will be built in to the new Campus building which is opening in the Spring of 2013. However, we have always said that we don’t want to end up with a “two tier” campus and we plan to implement the same new technologies across existing buildings as these are refurbished. We are also planning to kit out a few existing rooms over the Autumn so that staff can become accustomed to the new facilities and controls ahead of the new Campus building opening in 2013 – watch this blog for more info nearer the time!

IT Strategy – Our Service Portfolio

In the last post, I introduced the new IT Strategy and briefly highlighted the “Personal Environment” as a priority. Our next priority is what we call the “Service Portfolio”. We deliver many services – too many to mention on the strategy document, but we have highlighted here the key priority areas. Whatever else we are delivering, we will be keeping an overall focus on ensuring that we develop our core services particularly to improve:

          • Our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
          • Information and Document Management
          • e-Enabling the University
          • Enhancing communication and collaboration tools

Many of the improvements on information and document management, and e-Enabling the University, will come from the Portal project – more on that very soon as the first parts will launch this summer. For Communication and collaboration tools the Portal will also be important, as will the new Unified Communications system – first parts of this will launch later in the year.

One area I haven’t mentioned is our online Virtual Learning Environment. In February of this year, the University approved £250,000 for a major upgrade to our online learning environment in recognition of its strategic importance. This project is a partnership between IT Services and DELTA (the Department for the Enhancement of Learning Teaching and Assessment). Our VLE is based on the community-developed Moodle platform and the overall aim of this major upgrade is to improve performance, resilience and ease of support and ensure that the platform has the capacity to scale up for the anticipated growth in content and number of users over the next few years. Some of the key areas this project will be looking at are:

  • In response to student feedback, significantly improved module editing capabilities to encourage and enable consistency of layout, engaging/attractive module design and efficient setup through the use of selectable module templates;
  • An upgrade to version 2 of Moodle, including capacity and performance upgrades for the Moodle servers and storage;
  • Linking our e-portfolio service (MyPortfolio) more closely with Moodle and making the service available to all students in line with employability initiatives and PDP (Personal Development Planning) policy;
  • Updating our eAssessment service to allow for “high stakes” e-Assessment and also to provide mobile access;
  • Upgrades to media services to enhance performance and meet demand for anticipated future use of rich media content, including video streaming, lecture capture and the use of archived TV content;

Work has started, and the essential background infrastructure upgrades will take place over the summer, with new facilities being made available progressively over the course of the next 12 months.